Bike lane opens path to sustainability

It’s the second day of the Burrard Bridge lane reallocation trial and the sky has not fallen. Riots have not broken out and traffic chaos has not materialized. In fact, even some of the naysayers about the trial are finding it difficult to say anything negative about it.

I usually walk across the bridge and I must admit I had mixed feelings about the lane reallocation trial. But then, I had mixed feelings every time I walked across it. The vista from the bridge is wonderful, but the sidewalk is so narrow, and the cars and bicycles so fast, that I never felt completely at ease when walking across to Kits. I was glad Council was giving cyclists two dedicated lanes, but disappointed that they were taking one of these lanes away from pedestrians. It was only with some reluctance that I gave in to my partner’s urgings and dusted off my old bicycle on Monday morning to ride across the bridge.

Sharon and I slowly made our way to the Sylvia Hotel, where the West End Residents Association (WERA) had organized a breakfast & ride. Two council members, Geoff Meggs (in bike gear) and Tim Stevenson (in a suit), were there, along with MLA Spencer Herbert (dressed impeccably as ever). Several WERA members were present, including WERA president Brent Granby and his young daughters, Saffi and Malli. Rob Wynen of Friends of the Bridge, who has been fighting for dedicated bike lanes on the bridge for more than a decade, was also there with his son, Evan. There was some good-natured kidding of Tim Stevenson, obviously uncomfortable on his new bicycle, and then we set off, along Beach and then Pacific towards the bridge.

Geoff Meggs took the lead, with Tim wobbling behind him. I stayed behind Tim, with the rest strung out behind us. As we approached the bridge, other cyclists joined us, including a guy on a unicycle. Car traffic didn’t look any worse than normal. As the bridge came in sight and I saw the television cameras, still cameras, people handing out leaflets, police directing traffic and dozens of cyclists all headed towards the bike lane, I felt a rush of exhilaration. I wasn’t just going for a bicycle ride, I was part of a historical event.

Once we hit the bridge itself, we started to ring our bells and cheer. It felt great to ride across the bridge, feeling the wind in my face, and looking across at the ships in English Bay and the cloud-shrouded mountains. It occurred to me that for the first time ever, I was crossing the bridge and not worrying about being hit by a bicycle or a car. It was a great feeling, and it got even better when we crested the top of the bridge and began wheeling towards the south end and the scores of journalists, politicians and cyclists waiting there.

And then the threatened chaos happened, but it was a happy chaos. A Globe and Mail reporter grabbed Sharon and interviewed her. BCTV and the Vancouver Sun interviewed Brent’s kids for their feelings about cycling over the bridge. Kerry Jang made a speech. Gregor Robertson acknowledged the cheers of the assembled cyclists (and a few boos from passing cars). Heather Deal joked with Tim Stevenson about his cycling prowess. And then we headed back across the bridge and home again.

All the rest of that day, I tried to stay focus on my day job, but my eyes kept straying to my Twitter feed, to see what was being tweated about the bridge, and to katkam.ca for its live webcam aimed at the bridge. As the evening rush hour ended with no traffic snarls on the bridge, I thought that maybe it would work out after all.

I still feel that we pedestrians lost something with the decision, especially those who normally walk on the east side of the bridge. Now they have to cross several dangerous lanes of traffic, twice, to get to their destination. We’re going to have to work on that. Meanwhile, I 'm thankful to the cycling community that lobbied for so many years for this and to the Vision and COPE councillors, and Mayor Robertson, who listened to them and made it a reality.

As Frances Bula writes in the July 14 Globe and Mail, it's only a kilometre of pavement, but it's more than that. It's a symbol of a more sustainable, more livable Vancouver.

Maybe my bicycle won’t be gathering so much dust from now on.

Photo by Brent Granby of West End MLA Spencer Herbert riding the trial lane

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